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Monday, February 20, 2023

Natural Law online reading group, Week 13, 'I Opening'

Photo by Sander Sammy at

  [I really like the entire Hilaritas Natural Law book, hence this reading group, but I think Chad's discovery and reprinting of "I Opening" is a particularly amazing gift for RAW fans. When I decided to do the reading group, Chad Nelson, the book's editor, offered to do a guest post on "I Opening," and of course I agreed. Here it is. The Management.] 

By Chad Nelson
Special guest blogger

It seemed appropriate to conclude the new edition of Natural Law with something unexpected. After all, that’s the general flavor of the book’s main essay and its companion pieces: weird, contrarian, surprisingly information-dense. 

RAW once described his work as an attempt to put LSD into the intellectual water supply. Patrons of RAWIllumination and other longtime Wilson fans have probably built up a tolerance though, so the ideas presented in this book, although profound, may no longer shock our consciences like they did when we originally encountered Wilson. I hope ending the new Natural Law volume with Wilson’s lesser-known 1972 essay "I Opening", represents a flashback of sorts. There were other reality-shattering essays that could have gone in its spot, but I liked ending it with this one for a lot of reasons.

I often wonder what the ultimate practitioner of Maybe Logic, guerrilla ontology, neurological relativism, anarchism, and “that jolly flavor of nihilism — Discordianism,” might look like, and how they’d navigate life. Surely there are countless varieties of such a person, and Hugh Crane is unmistakably one of them. RAW’s “Reichian Rebel” (as Crane is described in Gallery magazine's synopsis of the piece) seems to be a blend of a half dozen or more of the different esoteric traditions and intellectual outcasts that influenced Wilson. Some elements of "I Opening" even seem autobiographical.

Like all of us, Crane was the opposite of a static individual. He is multiple and malleable (he “seemed to be a verb,” as Wilson liked to quote Fuller). The story take us through Crane’s evolution as he experiments with deliberately induced brain change. Throughout, we witness Crane move through various phases: from atheist to “religious nut”, de Sadian “sex maniac” to devoted husband, heir apparent to Houdini to disgraced nightclub act, to name a few of them. Along the way, Wilson inserts Crane into all sorts of historical events, like a subversive Forest Gump. In Crane, Wilson gives us a character willing to evaluate almost every form of cultural conditioning and decide for himself whether to regard them or not. In doing so publicly, Hugh Crane is simultaneously the freest man and the most despised. 

Is this the destiny that awaits anyone as bold as Crane in real life? If so, is it a life worth living?

I really appreciated Bobby Campbell’s analysis of the Guns and Dope Party in his recent interview with Mike Gathers. In short, Bobby suggests the Guns and Dope Party is yet another of RAW’s efforts to get us to think for ourselves. It’s sort of the ultimate trickster maneuver: to present an idea so incisive, yet taboo, that Wilson followers are almost guaranteed to parrot it before giving it a second thought. Perhaps there’s an element of that teaching in "I Opening." One must figure out a proper balance between individuality and truth-seeking on the one hand, and coexistence on the other. As heroic as Hugh Crane is, pushing back against every societal norm is fraught with social peril. Contrary though it may be to the romantic brand of free-thinking we’ve learned from Wilson, there may actually be a time and place for falling in line and self-censorship. So what is the right balance between rebellion and conformity? It beats me. It is an interesting paradox many of us grapple with — you really can’t have one mode of being without the other.

Wilson may not have intended for "I Opening" to be as profound as I’m making it (although Crane’s story is later expanded in the Schrödinger’s Cat trilogy, which Wilson hints may be a “ shamanistic manual in the form of a novel”). Regardless, I think RAW’s fiction gives us a depth that’s not always available through his non-fiction. At the end of "I Opening," we come to learn that after Crane’s murder, his disciples (a “cult”) exhibit odd behavior: visiting Crane's murderer in prison, petitioning for his clemency, expressing tolerance for his ideas, and “answering questions with maybe” and he [Crane] was seeking / we are seeking”. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the middle ground we ought to seek as we go about our lives equipped with Wilson’s teachings. 

I first read the Hugh Crane material in Schrödinger’s Cat, which came early on in my RAW journey. At the time I read it, most of the references to other historical renegades and occult philosophies were lost on me. But as I continued to read Wilson’s other work, and those he was influenced by, I began to pick up on the meaning of those obscure references. For instance, it only recently occurred to me that much of Crane’s story parallels the real life adventures of Aleister Crowley. I was also initially unfamiliar with the concept of ego dissolution (described in Crane’s prison notes), a concept I now understand is an experience that binds so many ancient spiritual traditions — helping me understand the meaning behind the title "I Opening." I’m sure I’ll continue to find others, which is another reason I’m always fond of revisiting this story.


tony smyth said...

Wooo. coming to the end of the book and I haven’t posted anything yet, which is a bit disrespectful considering Chad’s hard work. In truth I wasn’t too impressed with most of the Natural Law section, though it ends very strongly. After that the book seemed IMO to get much better and there are many sections I’ll revisit.

The general theme of escaping Aristotelian either/ors and binary thinking (a major RAW theme anyhow) seems highly pertinent to 2023, especially as I look at the effects of two recent massive propaganda campaigns and how many people fell for them – the two in question being the covid vaccine two year blitz and the current ‘Putin is Hitler/the “unprovoked war”/Zelenski (the coke head) is Churchill’ ongoing MSM churn. Its amazing how many fall for it hook, line and sinker. Even more amazing is how the narrative changed from covid to Ukraine in seemingly 3 weeks and the sheeplike populous switched tracks unquestioningly. Three weeks! Learys advice to ‘always question authority (including MSM), and no doubt RAWs, would be useful.
(can't post any jpegs here... ah well)

Nietzsche I found a hard dense slog when I tried to read his work but the article here encourages a revisit, maybe via a good biography or summary (can anyone recommend one?)

Notes on a Sceptical Mystic was excellent (written in 1959 Wow!!). I must admit I have only once experienced a complete cessation of thinking, and know very few who have, but for those who have, well you don’t forget it. One was a friend who as a football player got concussion and was completely lucid but couldn’t remember any of his past for about a week.

In my case it was at an onsen (hotspring) outside Tokyo. When you go there you gradually adjust to the intense heat, then your body gets thoroughly warmed. The whole thing is slow and meditative in beautiful surroundings anyhow. Usually you do the baths maybe twice first day and a quick dip the next morning. In my case it was sitting in the lobby area the next morning. Nothing special, a square window looking out on sunlight moss or square window to the right. No thought whatsoever. Everything was perfect and still. And I just sat and sat, perfectly content. I’ve never forgotten that (actually I think there was bit of hash involved too, but mostly the onsen effect!). The hard part is writing about this as it’s a state of non-thought.

The interview with Sy Safransky is also excellent.

So, all in all, the parable I’d use for this book you kept the good wine for last.

Well done Chad, and all associated with getting it out.

Eric Wagner said...

I love this story. I have wondered for years how much John Lennon's murder influenced the murder of Hugh Crane in Schroedinger's Cat. This much earlier story makes clear that Bob had the outline of his murder in mind years before Lennon's death.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Eric, you beat me to it, but I noticed the eerie similarity too, and the fact that this was written years before Lennon was killed. It seems like the genesis of the Cat books is years before they were published, so the chronology is interesting.

chad said...

Well said, Tony! Glad you enjoyed it.

I appreciate the NL essay, in part, for how it organizes the argument. After the first few sections punching back at Rothbard, Konkin and Smith, it transitions to a pretty well-outlined approach to debunking metaphysical truths. It wouldn't have made sense for the title essay to appear last, but it might have actually worked well if it did, as a way to consolidate everything that came before it...

chad said...

I always enjoy comparing and contrasting the I Opening / S. Cat versions of the Hugh Crane story. The book version has a fair amount of additional material in all three books, most of it coming in Trick Top Hat.

I bought the solo edition of Trick Top a while back, and it had an extra chapter on Crane, which was very cool.

I wonder if either of the other two S.Cat books have Crane material that didn't make it into the consolidated version? Does anyone know?

Oz Fritz said...

Brilliant way to end the book with this top notch essay on magick. Wilson gives away a lot here. He answers the question in the title at the end.

Schrodinger's Cat has additional details on Crane's murder that match Lennon's. There, Wilson puts it on Central Park West and specifies the month of December both the same as Lennon's. More there; yet SC came out the year before Lennon died.

I connect Hugh Crane with Ukraine from the episode where Epicene Wildeblood mishears his name as Ukraine. In that episode, the world gets annihilated by nuclear weapons. Ukraine gets top billing in the news again with Biden's trip there at the same time as Hugh Crane takes center stage in this reading group. Putin declares he won't honor the nuclear weapons treaty.

tony smyth, I highly recommend Ecce Homo by Nietzsche. It counts as both an autobiography of sorts and his own summary of his work. Very concise and direct though at times he sounds like a megalomaniac or at the edge of madness. He wrote it a few months before he collapsed and lost his mind. I'm currently rereading it. I suspect he knew this would be his final book. One passage can be read as forecasting his end.

Regarding people "falling" for the covid vaccine - I don't believe you.

Eric Wagner said...

The copyright's for the original Schroedinger's Cat Trilogy: Volume 1, 1979; Volumes 2 & 3, 1981. I think John Lennon's death informed volumes two and three.

Oz Fritz said...

Interesting about the copyright dates. I went by the copyright printed on the omnibus edition containing all three volumes. They chose the earlier date for that. I assumed that date, 1979, applied to all three volumes. Apparently not.

Eric Wagner said...

On December 8, 1980, I saw the film "Lenny." Watching it I thought, "Man, this reminds me of John Lennon. Thank God he didn't end up like this." I came home to learn that John had died.

In 1982 Spider Robinson wrote an article on John's death that included a review of Bob Wilson's Illuminati Papers. Spider said that he thought the world needed Wilson's optimism at this point. That review helped to get me to start reading Wilson.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Eric, I'll bet every Beatles fan remembers hearing the news. My anecdote is not as good as yours. I was watching "Monday Night Football" when Howard Cosell gave the bad news. I got at least one phone call that night from a friend who was also upset.